Circulating endothelial cells and endothelial progenitor cells: two sides of the same coin, or two different coins?

Atherosclerosis. 2006 Sep;188(1):12-8. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2005.12.024. Epub 2006 Feb 20.


Circulating endothelial cells (CECs) and endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs) are two populations of recently discovered endothelioid cells present in the blood. The former are thought to arise from the intima, the latter from the bone marrow. However, it is becoming clear that these are not in fact homogenous populations (e.g. differing degrees of apoptosis, necrosis and viability, differing expression of monocyte markers) but do in fact represent more than one species of endothelioid cell. Thus whilst originally defined by different criteria (e.g. CD146 by immunobeads, CD34 by flow cytometry) and the perception of independence, there is also growing evidence of some degree of commonality, i.e. some cells co-expressing CD146 and CD34. Furthermore, relationships between these two cells types and, for example, plasma and physiological indicators of vascular damage, and the risk factors for atherosclerosis, suggest a potential role for these cells in the pathophysiology of this disease, possibly as markers. The current document reviews this evidence, presenting a view of some degree of shared ancestry that may have implications for pathophysiology and cell biology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigens, CD34 / analysis
  • Blood Cells / chemistry
  • Blood Cells / cytology
  • Blood Cells / physiology*
  • Blood Circulation*
  • CD146 Antigen / analysis
  • Endothelial Cells / chemistry
  • Endothelial Cells / cytology
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Stem Cells / chemistry
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / physiology*


  • Antigens, CD34
  • CD146 Antigen